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The postseason ballot I sent to the NBA looked like a doctor's prescription written in Sanskrit. Olajuwon or Barkley for MVP? I wrote down Barkley, crossed out his name and put Olajuwon's, crossed that out and put Barkley's, crossed that out and.... Then there was the question of Mark Price or Joe Dumars for first-team guard. Changed my mind on that one a half dozen times. Up front, after first-teamers Barkley and Wilkins, who would be your next two forwards? Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen? Detlef Schrempf and Larry Johnson? Derrick Coleman and Danny Manning? What about Larry Nance? Does guard Drazen Petrovic's scoring (22.3 per game) put him ahead of Dan Majerle's all-around play? I erased each of their names a few times. At any rate, here are my choices.
MVP: 1) Olajuwon, 2) Barkley, 3) Ewing, 4) Jordan, 5) Wilkins.
The criteria for MVP (in any sport) remain as elusive as Stacey King's defense. Four key ones for me: stats, of course; how well the player's team has performed, both overall and when measured against preseason expectations; how sizable the gap is between the MVP candidate and the second-best player on his team; and some sort of lifetime-achievement factor. I like Olajuwon on all those counts. He had a career season (he averaged 26.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.17 blocks, 1.83 steals), his Rockets finished far above preseason expectations (remember that the Suns were an elite franchise even before Charles arrived), he carries his team night after night (Barkley has KJ and Majerle; Jordan has Pippen), and he has never come close to winning the award despite a brilliant career.
That last factor is also true for both Barkley and Ewing, but I believe that Olajuwon had the best, most consistent season of any player in the NBA. What of Jordan, winner of the last two MVP awards? A few weeks ago he said that he probably would not win this season because he is a victim of the high standards he has set for himself. He is 100% correct. Nevertheless, if any of those four players wins the award, I'll have no complaints.
All-NBA First Team: Barkley and Wilkins, forwards; Olajuwon, center; Price and Jordan, guards.
All-NBA Second Team: Larry Johnson and Karl Malone, forwards; Ewing, center; Dumars and Stockton, guards.
All-NBA Third Team: Pippen and Coleman, forwards; Robinson, center; Majerle and Tim Hardaway, guards.
Price over Dumars is a hairsplitter. I solicited the opinions of 10 players, and six picked the Cavs' point guard, four the Pistons' shooting guard. I finally went with Price because his shooting percentage (49.6% to 46.6%), three-point percentage (41.6% to 37.5%) and free throw percentage (league-leading 94.8% to 86.4%) are superior to those of Dumars. The other four picks for first team? I don't want to hear any arguments.
As for the second team, Stockton did not have his usual superlative season, but for the sixth straight year he led the league in assists. Malone and LJ make the second squad because they were more consistent than Pippen or Coleman. Hardaway was also not up to par this season, but the injury-riddled Warriors might have been down in Maverick Land without him. Majerle is a scorer, a three-point shooter, a rebounder and a defender; Petrovic falls short of Majerle in the last two categories. Robinson barely edged O'Neal for the third-team spot.
Defensive Player of the Year: Olajuwon, with a league-leading 4.17 blocked shots per game.